Former Ruth’s Chris CEO to seek Nelson’s Senate seat

AP Political WriterJuly 12, 2011 

TALLAHASSEE -- Craig Miller, the former CEO of the Ruth’s Chris steakhouse chain, plans to announce today he’ll seek the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

Miller, who placed third in a five-way race for Congress last year, plans to fly around the state with stops in Orlando, Tampa, Naples, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville to make the announcement.

While Miller spent nearly $560,000 of his own money on his congressional race, he doesn’t plan to self-finance his Senate campaign, said campaign manager Paul Ciaramitaro.

That will put pressure on him to come up with a big fundraising quarter to start the campaign, especially in a crowded field, said Tallahassee-based Republican political consultant Brett Doster.

Former Sen. George LeMieux, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former state Rep. Adam Hasner and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister are already in the race. LeMieux announced Monday he raised $950,000 in the fundraising quarter that ended June 30, more than the $900,000 Haridopolos’ campaign said it raised and the $560,000 the Hasner campaign said it raised. McAlister hasn’t released fundraising figures.

Doster thinks Miller, 61, will need to raise at least a million dollars during his first quarter for people to take him seriously as a candidate, especially since people may be skeptical of his viability after finishing third in the House race.

“If he doesn’t have political credibility he’s going to need to show he has financial credibility,” Doster said.

Miller was forced to leave Ruth’s Chris in 2008 after the chain’s profits dropped and stock value fell nearly 70 percent. He was given a $2.4 million severance package, the Orlando Sentinel reported at the time. He previously served as CEO of Uno Restaurant Holdings Corp. He also had volunteered for the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

He entered the House race that then State Rep. Sandy Adams eventually won six months before the primary. While he finished third, he was only 1,616 votes behind Adams in a close race.

Miller’s campaign said he wasn’t available for comment Monday.

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